Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kayak to Alaska?

AS CONGRESS continues to kneel backward against a solution to the economic gloom, the McCain ticket faces a growing political storm over his erratic comments and the presence of Sarah Palin - who was recruited by the GOP deep thinkers as his Pocahontas.  With her vacant response to each question raised by the media she has betrayed her poor entry level grasp of worldly issues.  Some of her allies in the GOP are getting jittery as her popularity numbers sink.  Some, like Kathleen Parker of the conservative National Review, want her to hop onto her kayak and paddle home. Palin, wrote Parker, is "clearly out of her league."  She added:  "If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall St. on her own."  

McCain is having none of it, complaining that a hard question  from a voter that  tripped up Palin during a campaign stop was "gotcha journalism".  Cool. 

Monday, September 29, 2008


ACCORDING TO the Sunday Times of London,  the McCain camp is passing the word that Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter Bristol and her boyfriend Levi Johnston may decide to get married before the election.  The paper quotes a McCain insider as saying it would be a great boost for the campaign because "you would have every TV camera there." Right. 

        Considering all of the dumb things that have happened so far, beginning with the insane choice of an Alaskan hockey mom, a double shotgun wedding would be well within the context of  political stunts.  What else might we expect in the campaign's remaining month to extract  McCain's daily gaffes from his presidential image?  Some possibilities: 

         PALIN and her entire family will parachute into a World Series game in prime time.

         MCCAIN and Joe Lieberman will reopen Wolfies, the once-popular deli in Miami  Beach, promoting a surge of franchises throughout pacified Iraq. 

         PALIN will invite all of her skeptics to a special showing of a remote Russian fishing   village  while explaining that, unfortunately, you can't see the Arctic circle from her front           porch  because it is really only an imaginary line on the map.

          MCCAIN will try to sell his Straight Talk Express bus on eBay and spend the last two  weeks of his campaign  traveling around in one of his 13 cars to prove that he is a common  man..        

        PALIN  will meet with the president of Iceland for a second time to prove that she is a    work in progress on the  benefits of permafrost. 

       THE  Republican National Committee, with McCain's eager consent, will hire Tina Fey to stand in for Palin in the final week of the campaign.  Fortunately for McCain,  Tina doesn't           do a good impersonation of him.  But they say she's working on it.  
      On with the wedding!



To the barricades!

TED DIADIUN,  the Plain Dealer's conservative ombudsman and primordial  company man,  manned the barricades Sunday in a column that shed little additional light on the internal workings of the machinery that demoted Donald Rosenberg as the paper's classical music critic.  Defending  editor Susan Goldberg's  decision to separate Rosenberg from the Cleveland Orchestra reviews, Diadiun concluded that it was in the best interests of the newspaper  and its readers - "a decision that is her right and responsibility to make."   I won't quibble with that.  But it does lose some of its authority  when it appears in Diadiun's weekly column that is called "Reader Representative."   Ted Diadiun, for goodness sake?  

Sunday, September 28, 2008

An American hero

THE LATE John Seiberling was remembered Saturday with soaring affection in the spacious sanctuary of the Bath Church-United Church of Christ.  The memorial service for the former Akron congressman, an unapologetic liberal Democrat,  drew more then 200 friends, many from his former Washington staff as well as the family and  others  from his 14th District that he served   so honorably  for eight terms.  The ten speakers who rose to the pulpit described him in terms reserved for noble giants: Courageous... Prinicipled... Unyielding to his opponents.  "A man of fortitude and with a fabulous mind," said  Loretta Neumann,  one of Seiberling's key assistants in his Washington office who tirelessly  directed the steps leading to the service.

Grand  embellishments of the lives of the dead are not hard to come by.  However, in Seiberling's case the recognition of  his accomplishments in a day of cynical and even depraved distortions of the truth were not only accurate - but fully deserved. He set a  standard for committed public service that few others can ever hope to achieve. A determined environmentalist, he is regarded as the father of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, working across the aisle with Rep. Ralph Regula, the Navarre Republican, to win White House and congressional support.  Appearing  in park uniform at the pulpit, CVNP superintendent John Debo  solemnly credited Seiberling with "battling the obstacles" to preserve 33,000 acres for the benefit of the millions of visitors to the park today. He concluded by lifting his hat that  had been out of view behind  the podium. "I honor an American hero," he said. "Our hats are off to you."

Seiberling's remarkable accomplishments extended well beyond the CVNP.  He played a central role in sponsoring legislation that created the Alaska Lands Act of 1980 that preserved 100 million acres in the state that is creating such a fuss these days with a vice presidential nominee whose views on conservation seem to change  with each sunrise.    

None of this was easy and certainly the opposition to his environmental goals grew, particularly in Alaska,  where the hard-liners accused him of carpetbagging - and worse.  One can imagine how it would play  today among those who insist that destructive global warming is a myth generated by crazy liberals like Seiberling.  Not that he would care.

As a political writer who covered Seiberling on the homefront  throughout his tenure in Washington, I was always impressed by his low-key expression of his mission - "Mankind is my business" -  his dedication to the arts and his droll response to candidates who came at him for eight terms.  I covered the first debate he accepted with a Republican restaurant owner who wanted at least a half-dozen more.   The challenger was s0 quietly destroyed in the first one that I asked Seiberling why he had agreed to do  more. "If he wants to debate," Seiberling said seriously, "I can't very well ignore him. It wouldn't be right."  I said that would be fine, but this would be the last time that I would show up to report on such a mismatch.   Seiberling replied with a soft laugh.

But you can find the essence of the man in Saturday's printed program.  Here, we let him speak for himself:

              "We will never see the land as our ancestors did.  But we can understand
               what made it beautiful and why they lived and died to preserve it. And
               in preserving it for future generations, we will preserve something of
               ourselves.  If we all have an interest in this land, then we all have a stake 
               in its preservation.  There is no more worthwhile cause"...  

Friday, September 26, 2008

Striking preemptively

Talk about public indecency!   The McCain campaign released an Internet ad today that said McCain won the debate -" hands down"   Let's see.  the debate isn't until...um....tonight.  Oh, I see. It was a preemptive strike.  Right?    No, I don't see.  Still not used to the weirdly erratic elements in this campaign.    

Trick or treat

WELL, THEY'LL debate tonight,  although in the circus-like atmosphere of the McCain campaign, I can't be sure of anything anymore.    His flight to Washington presumably to officiate negotiations that were  well along anyway  was the biggest political grandstanding act since the late Gov. Rhodes, a master of such highly visible nonsense,  proposed building a bridge across Lake Erie at the Canadian taxpayers' expense.  Of course.

Now that McCain has chosen to barge in on a systemic financial crises that he discounted a week or so ago, it would not surprise me that he would take the next  logical step and rent an aircraft carrier to announce his "mission accomplished". 

 What is it with this fellow?   In crediting himself with "leadership" in resolving the looming disaster, McCain has clumsily prompted  both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to accuse  him of only making matters worse.  The official explanation from his campaign flacks for his decision to debate is that the senator is "optimistic that there has been sufficient progress".  But he assured the nation that he will return to Washington immediately after the debate to "ensure that all voices and interests" will be heard.  Mostly, his own.  

What TV channel are they watching?   One after another of  the weary participants are talking about a stalemate between the sides.  Meantime, another financial giant, Washington Mutual, took a hit.

It does appear to me that in crudely upstaging the president on the bailout as a bull in the china shop,  McCain has already assumed the acting- presidency for his very own self  to continue the miserable  series of mistakes of  the current incumbent.    Meantime, almost lost in the windstorm of his campaign was a positive note from Sarah Palin that she damn well has international experience.  She's got Canada's mostly barren Ogilvie Mountains on one side and a few Russian villages near the Arctic Circle just across the Bering Strait. Added to those strategic pluses for her, she now says she once met with Iceland's president.  

I want to scream.  It's getting to be more than I can process in one sitting.  So let me be the first to wish all of you a happy Halloween and get out of here for now! 

Watch the bouncing ball

THE BYLINE on the  Cleveland Cavaliers coverage in the Beacon Journal today will be vanishing soon. Brian Windhorst will assume the same role as the team's beat writer for the Plain Dealer on Oct. 6. In the daily ebb and flow of both papers' staffs, a familiar name will no longer be associated with the PD.   Stuart Warner, former columnist with the BJ who was a special projects editor for the PD, is out the door with whatever settlement the PD offered him. With growing evidence of interactive journalism, buyouts and early retirements,  readers will have to check their programs regularly to learn who is working for whom and who is not working at all.  

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rosenberg's wake in NY Times

THE NEW York Times picked up the beat today on the Plain Dealer's rendition of its longtime classical musical critic Donald Rosenberg.  In a lengthy report on Rosenberg's demotion that exceeded the paper's own spare announcement by a kilometer or two, the Times filled in much of the score while at the same time failing to get some clarifying words from Susan Goldberg, the paper's editor.  She was quoted as saying that she couldn't  discuss the issue because it was an "internal personnel matter." Oh? 

At this point, I should tell you that I was a colleague and friend of Don at the Beacon Journal, where he was an astute, sensitive and dedicated workaholic.  That friendship continues to this day. Make of it what you will. 

Having said that, I still must wonder about Goldberg's decision that was bound to raise suspicions that the mighty PD serves masters outside the newsroom, a matter that should alarm most caring journalists in a day when the newspaper business is in tattered retreat both in circulation and credibility.   We can hope that his dark event will not be picked up around the country as another Cleveland joke.    

Ghost in the attic

SADLY, THERE there was something terribly grotesque about President Bush's appearance before the TV cameras last night to tell us what we already knew - and what his administration should have known a long time ago.  As he recounted a Gothic tale of a "serious financial crises," "rescue effort" and "collapse",   he seemed to be a ghostly presence  returning to remind us that he once, by God,  served as leader of the free world before his own party (and the public) exiled him.  No longer the decider, he was now the faded outsider trying to explain, as best as his speechwriter could offer him to the public,  how America became impoverished by the sleight-of-hand Ponzi schemes of the highest rollers on Wall Street.  

But something in his presence had changed.  It lacked the bravado of his post-9/11 breast beating   when he promised to return the terrorists' war with our own war, defiantly asserting "Bring 'em on!" and later declaring the mission accomplished.  Who would he now "bring on"?  
And what mission could be accomplished by his authority  during the remaining days of his failed presidency?  

Even his pallid effort to reassure the nation was upstaged  by John McCain's theatrical decision to suspend his campaign, cancel his Friday night debate,  and return to Washington to cast his first vote in the Senate since - well, only the congressional archivists can recall the date.   

How bizarre.  In purporting to play a leadership role ,  McCain emerged as a Hollywood stunt man in the virtual reality of his perilous climb to the White House.  Did he really think that Obama would accept a few days off from his own schedule?    And did he really think that in the clumsy rearranging of the debate calendar that he could offer Sarah Palin more time for her on-the-job training on the path to the vice presidency?   Were the Democrats dumb enough to offer her a delay in her scheduled debate with Joe Biden?

If we can assume that that McCain has to be smarter than he sounds at times, the fallback position is that he is taking a lot of bad advice from the people around him - people who have a great stake in spoon-feeding him to the safe-keeping of the Oval Office.  That's the polite version.  And as each day passes I have to wonder what's under his $5,500 cosmetics that would tell us who John McCain really is.

I am Abe Zaidan and I approve this message. 


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The fallout up front

AN EMAIL arrived this morning from a reader that narrowed the gravely stricken economy to a single voice that clearly defines the human fallout from the official guesswork, debates and costly high level thievery of our once plentiful resources.

To quote, in part:

             You have no idea the level of despair among the workers in our factory. 
             Our 401Ks have taken a huge beating this year, which is bad enough.  Our
             sales department failed to make its goal this quarter and we  are in the process of 
             cutting  overtime for non-salaried employes.  For most of them that is a loss
             of income of $200 a paycheck.  Our outside vendors are begging for work and 
             we have nothing to give them.  

              There are real faces on this crisis and I see them every day.   Let us hope Obama
              wins and do everything we can to make that happen.   BUT...then he must govern
              and help us find a way out of this mess.  We are in deep shit right now.  People are        
              struggling that I personally know.  We need FDR.  Let's hope his ghost is still

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Battleground city

DOES ANYBODY get the feeling these days that, as the Music Man put it, ya got  trouble in River City?  And, my friends, that could only mean Cuyahoga Falls, the suburb just north of Akron which has been set aside as the very own fiefdom of Republican Mayor Don Robart.  For now, he's the most prominent burden that party deliverer Alex Arshinkoff must suffer in an already bleak year looming for county Republicans.  

Just last week, there was the temperamental mayor referring to Falls Municipal Judge Kim Hoover as a "horse's ass" on the front page of my family newspaper.  That Hoover is also a Republican suggests that the late Ray Bliss' caution against a Republican speaking ill of another political fraternity brother had at some point been dashed over the Cuyahoga River rapids around Broad Blvd. 

The Robart-Hoover feud has been  simmering for years.  But  not until it became etched into the public record for future generations with a vivid alley noun did Robart confirm his own notoriety as a sassy  ill-spoken pol.  I'll even excuse  him for his less physically descriptive second choice to define the judge as a "pathological liar," a term that is even gaining currency in the GOP's choice of a national ticket.  

The flash point has been Hoover's successful initiative to move the Cuyahoga Falls Municipal Court to Stow.  The public outburst couldn't haven't arrived at a more damaging time for a county party already at internal odds about Arshinkoff and the dominoes that are falling since former State Rep. John Widowfield, a Robart favorite, summarily resigned his seat in the legislature in May after it became known that the GOP lawmaker was selling Ohio 
State football tickets on ebay for a neat profit.  (At the time the Plain Dealer reported that he had nicked his campaign fund for $7,752 to pay OSU  for the tickets during a four-year entrepreneurial romp.) 

To make matters worse, he also quickly resigned as the party's choice to compete for a seat on Summit County Council,  after Arshinkoff & Co. helped him in the party primary to defeat Republican Louise Heydorn, a fixture on the council out of favor with the front office.   Now Widowfield's  legislative seat and Heydorn's on the council, previously comfortable in the GOP column,  are in jeopardy.  As for Widowfield, he isn't very visible these days.   Just as well. There's talk on both sides of the aisle that this could get ugly.  Stay tuned.  


Monday, September 22, 2008

Battleground visit

IT SEEMS as though we go through this every four years - not always, but the two Bush terms   make it seem so eternally true:  Ohio again is a battleground state in the 2008  presidential election.  What that means, according to the Democratic ledger,  is that without a win in Ohio, John McCain has no more than a one pct. chance in the national election. And then for all of the analyses, Ohio somehow lands in the GOP column, struggling economy, rising unemployment et al.   

But maybe things will be dramatically  different in Ohio this year. Just maybe.   In a conference call with Sen. Hillary Clinton on Monday, Gov.  Ted Strickland, one of her strongest supporters in the primary, said  the Ohio race was a "dead heat"  at this point but assured her that the Democrats' organization was in much better shape this year to claim victory for Barack Obama.  In turn, Hillary promised to campaign ardently "up and down the state" for her primary opponent, adding that four more years of a Republican in White House was not an option.  (Full disclosure: heard the whole conversation on a BlackBerry.) 

The main thrust of the party's confidence is the synergy between the Obama campaign and local party officials.  In past campaigns it was not uncommon to hear the locals complaining about the elites from the national campaign staff who were messing up things. Not so this year, says Wayne Jones, the Summit County Democratic chairman,   whose faint smile these days suggests something pleases him more than usual.  "A great thing is about to happen," he said at lunch, and he wasn't merely referring to his chili and salad.   He said he's been impressed by the scope and professionalism of Obama's troops this year.  

Summit County, of course, has long been unqualified  Democratic territory.  But Jones also likes the numbers this year:  Statewide, he says, the army of Obama workers had set a goal of canvassing 118,000 homes the past weekend, a number arrived at to equal the margin of  John Kerry's loss (So to speak!) to Bush in Ohio in 2004.  "Instead they went door-to-door to 173,000 homes," he said.  Other pluses, he noted, are a Democratic governor in the Statehouse, as well as Democrats newly occupying  all other state offices with the exception of auditor. The Democrats also have the secretary of state's office.  Remember how Ken Blackwell, the former occupant who was trounced by Strickland, sank deeply into the mire of confusion on how an honest election would be carried out in 2004.   His departure and those of others translate into a lot more political power in the precincts and at the polls for the Democrats. . 

New registrations have risen dramatically for the party and early absentee vote requests (30,000 now in hand)  suggest only the beginning of a big year, Jones says.  

Again, it shouldn't be this close in a state whose image as a troubled geographical reference point is only remembered, and often mocked,  nationally  every four years as a "battleground" state until the exit polls report the inevitable.  True, it might be different this year.  Quite different.  But I think I'll wait a little longer.   

Ordinary car owners

NEWSWEEK is reporting that John McCain and his wife Cindy own 13 cars, which seems like an extravagant burden even for a beer company heiress in view of the cost of gas  and an occasional new muffler these days.  Still, in fairness to the McCains, the number becomes more realistic when you consider their fleet serves their seven homes.  Folks, simple math will tell you that it averages to only two cars per household.  I can match that with a 15-year-old station wagon and eight-year-old sedan in my (or my auto service) garage.  That would please President Bush, who has been promoting America as an ownership society.  So to their whining critics, the McCains should not hesitate to remind them  of the foundation of the American economy:   The fundamentals of ownership are clearly on their side.   

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Flopping the flips

GRUMPY CONFUSION:  Reviewing McCain's instant replays, I must say his  flip flops are so prevalent that I can't decide which  are the flips and which are the flops.  Slow down, John .  I'm older than you are and as I'm sure you must be aware, the brain cells don't kick in as quickly as they used to.    

Scarlet letters

Scanning the Sunday morning sports pages, I am always struck by how deeply the state of Ohio indulges in the welfare of the Ohio State Buckeyes, otherwise identified as a a football team with unbridled loyalties.   To accept its presence  as temporary  relief  from life's darker side  is simply to ignore its dominance over the state's prevailing mood, distancing itself from rising unemployment, home losses and a cramped educational system.  As a carpetbagger myself, having lived in the state for scarcely 50 years, I have never come to grips with the preseason, postseason, pregame, postgame manic analyses from all corners of the state that serve as a kind of early warning system for Coach Tressel and his guys that he'd better get it right.  That was particularly true as the college kids who wear scarlet-and-grey jerseys and headgear returned from California the victims of a Blue State WMD.  

My first introduction to the enshrinement in Upper Arlington of Woodrow Hayes and the Buckeye bulldozers came in the late 50s when I was working as a young reporter at the Columbus Citizen. (Now dead and buried)  On those Saturday  afternoons when the team was at home, the newsroom would be vacated save for a few guys like me who were told to look after things until the others returned from the game.  Even the managing editor could not resist the temptation to write something about what he had witnessed on the field.  The Sunday paper not only included a play-by-play report, quarter by quarter, down by down, but also a sports reporter's long narrative of the game that replicated the play-by-play.

So affection for the team has been around for awhile.  I recently learned that the team so overwhelms Ohio athletic competition that it has not lost a single game to another Ohio team since the days of, oh... Charlemagne.   Unfortunately the mindset doesn't extend to the state's dismal performance on other more critical matters over the years. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Biden at the opera

That big photo of Joe Biden on the front page of the Beacon Journal today looked like he was reaching for an operatic high C or warming up to bay at the moon.  Considering the shrink-wrapped glamor pictures that the media have been running of Sarah Palin, one wonders how the unflattering Biden photo was pulled from the batch. (And it isn't solely because Biden lacks her glamor and the editors had no choice!)  Even the headline raised a question (Where is Obama? some fans asked)  that was mentioned in no more than a single paragraph in the lengthy  article about Biden's appearances in Akron and Canton.  Can't say the negatives were deliberate.   Maybe they simply didn't occur to the layout editor.   If so, why didn't they?

On the other hand, the BJ outshone the Plain  Dealer by a mile in its coverage of the Biden  events hereabouts.  The PD, not long ago the paper of record in Northern Ohio, settled for a short story on the back page of the first section with a Youngstown dateline. The story reduced Akron to two paragraphs.   This is worth mentioning only because it is simply one more bit of evidence of the decline and fall of the print media.   

More evidence?  Five reporters at the BJ have been given layoff notices and must decide by Nov. 14 whether they will accept buyouts.  In addition, the hit list includes three copy  editors, one artist, one clerk and one photographer.  The word from the front is not pretty and the battleground will soon be strewn with more victims.   Sadly, the print industry is in panicky retreat and is doubtless past the point of no return.  Drastic reductions in staff,  other cost-savers and price increases will only delay the inevitable.  Among the latest "innovations" is the sharing of stories by several papers.   It is not unusual nowadays for the Plain Dealer, Beacon Journal, Columbus Dispatch to carry articles with bylines  from the other papers.  It's a takeoff on the retailing practice of reporting one story, get one free.    Get used to it.  

Neighborhood expertise

Grumpy note to Sarah:  I stood on my front step and could see the house on the corner of the block. Don't know who lives there.  Or whether the people even speak my language. Or whether they have hostile purposes.   But do I know that the house is there because I can see it.  I see what you mean, Sarah.  

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Music in a minor key

The dirge rising from my corner this evening  is prompted by the word that Plain Dealer Music Critic  Donald Rosenberg, one of the nation's best,  has been unceremoniously dismissed from his 16-year role of covering the Cleveland Orchestra.  No, he wasn't fired.  Simply sent to the bullpen where he will be available to cover lesser music events. And in Cleveland, all musical  endeavors are lesser than the venerable Cleveland Orchestra. 

As is the case with many of the shakeouts during the modern media's somber decline,  the once powerful PD found limp reasons to, in effect, humiliate its victim.  The paper's editor, Susan Goldberg, called him in and, according to Rosenberg, gave him three reasons for the demotion. She told him he was too tough on the orchestra, she wanted broader coverage of its work and finally, he had been in the job too long (not that any of his words ever creaked). 

As a former music critic  myself, I think it is more than unfair to accuse a gifted writer like Rosenberg of being too tough.  Actually, he has long praised the orchestra, but has often been critical of the music director, Franz Welser-Most, who appears to have a contract in perpetuity at Severance Hall. I have found myself disagreeing with Rosenberg's reviews from time to time.  So what!  I never questioned his knowledge of his calling nor his sincerity.

Obviously under pressure from the managers and board members who preside over the orchestra, the PD's front office has  been building an anti-Rosenberg case for some time. But eight years ago, he was the toast of  the orchestra and concertgoers  as he was presented to the public at a standing-room-only book signing as the author of the superb seminal history, The Cleveland Orchestra Story, Second to None.   
He will be replaced by Zack Lewis,  a young man (31 ) whom Rosenberg decribed  as "a good man, and smart".  You can find more about him with Google, including a videoed short of him rock-climbing.  

In this final movement, there may be greater losers  at the PD, but Rosenberg, wherever he will be stashed,  is not among them.  May we now stop boasting about press freedom in the trade journals?  

Bush economics 001

President Bush's televised  bird's eye view of the nation's financial crises was so short today that some people were calling for an instant replay.  If you sneezed, you missed it.   He did say, however, that he canceled his travel plans to stay on top of the mess.   As it happened, that change in his daily rounds wasn't at all necessary.   

Room with a view?

Try this quote on for size:  

"I think they ought to be just honest about, 'I look out my window and I see Russia and therefore I know something about Russia.'   That kind of thing is insulting to the American people."
                                 Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. 

 (Thanks to Talking  Points Memo for retrieving it from the Omaha World-Herald .  And more thanks to Sarah Palin for her mini-glimpse of Russia.)  


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Time out for tapeworms

Years ago a medicine show set up shop in the big field next to our house in small-town Mt. Pleasant, Pa.  That was pretty exciting summer fare for the hometown folks.  It also earned me a few bucks of pocket money when I was asked to sit in for the show's ailing pianist for a few nights.  The hucksters were promoting a bottled liquid (God knows what it was!) to drain all of  the deadly pollutants from your body for a pittance.  The highlight of the night was the appearance on a primitive  stage by a manic fellow lugging a big kettle.  Calling for absolute silence by the many onlookers seated on the long benches facing him, the major domo began ladling long dripping strands of spaghetti from the pot.  But he swore that he was actually revealing tapeworms that were flushed from a human being by his magic potion.  As the show's sales force rushed up and down the aisles between the benches, the enthralled patrons, suckered into believing that pasta had morphed into tapeworms,  unhesitantly bought botttle after bottle.  Indeed, the con game was so successful that the promoters hung around for a second week.   I think of that as the Palin-McCain campaign continues to attract customers.  

Out of Bounds?

Quick!  Who is Tucker Bounds?  He's the new face on TV who is being described as a McCain spokesman.  With a name that sounds like he's somebody's gnarled next-door neighbor in a Dickens novel,  he should be easy to identify.  But even the national bloggers are desperately trying to find his bio.  The only word is that he comes from the insurance lobbying industry.  If so, the poor fellow should go back to the easier task of twisting the arms of congressmen rather than twisting his response to every tough question  about his new boss.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One for McCain

As one who has assailed John McCain as a liar, I must in fairness give him a little slack when he responds to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, one of the biggest piggy banks on Wall Street, by insisting that the "fundamentals" of the economy are strong.  McCain wasn't lying about the economy.  Like Bush, he doesn't know.  

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The McCain mudslide

As a young Air Force officer, I was taken aside by a battle-ribboned  colonel who counseled me. "Young man," he said sternly, "there is one thing you must remember as long as you are wearing that uniform.  You must never do anything to dishonor it."  Years later, when I was the Beacon Journal's politics writer,  John S. Knight, the last of the great newspaper editors,  confided during a meeting in his office his commitment not only to his newspaper but also to himself.  "As long as my name is on this paper,"  he said, " I will never tolerate anything that will bring dishonor to me or the paper."

In both instances, damn good words to live by. Unfortunately they are being grossly ignored by John McCain.  To his discredit, his sleazy campaign - how else can you describe the lies that he hopes will vault him to the White House? - has stripped him of the honor of a bona fide war hero to that of a third-rate politician groveling to the finish line using an equally deceptive Annie Oakley as his crutch.   Even Karl Rove, a master of deception himself, allows that the McCain/Palin attacks on Barack Obama have gone over the line. That translates easily into references to indefensible lies by the Republican team.

You can find the seeds of the McCain philosophy in Orwell's 1984. 

              "He who controls the past controls the future." 

We won't know until election day whether that will prevail.   Until then, I'll settle for the reproachful words of Joseph Welch, the Army's civilian counsel,  as he challenged Sen. Joseph McCarthy at their combative Senate hearing.   Bolder than most who had been slandered by the villainous senator, the comparatively meek Welch dressed down McCarthy. "You have done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?"

We can continue to wonder about McCain's slide into the darkest side of politics.  Maybe the answer would explain why he finished near the bottom of his class - 894th of 899 - at the U.S. Naval Academy. 



Saturday, September 13, 2008

Geritol to the rescue

Talk about whining, Mr. Gramm!   Should we not have moved beyond the point in which Sarah's critics are repeatedly being accused of sexism?.  Are we now to believe, as Palin and her apologists do, that she is protected from the slings and arrows of a presidential campaign because, simply stated, she is a woman?  That, of itself, is a sexist notion and would demean any woman running for the second highest office of the land by suggesting that she is... um... an inseparable but unequal candidate.  She's in the major league now, and can expect the pitchers to throw as hard against a rookie as a seasoned veteran. 

If her defenders are looking for sexism, they should begin with the biggest sexist ploy in the campaign so far:  the cynical decision to make her McCain's fresh supply of Geritol without thoroughly checking the label. In other words, she was used,   regardless of her command of national issues, for temporary relief from his anemic campaign image.    McCain had teased reporters by saying that he would pick the person most qualified  to serve in the office.   Oh?     Well, not really. Bottom line:  For whatever her deficiencies, she was on board strictly because she was a tigerish woman.   Among other carry-on baggage that she brought to the airport was her demonstrated support of a secessionist movement in Alaska, the Alaska Independence Party, founded by Joe Vogler, an angry Alaskan.  Vogler once said this (as quoted in the Los Angeles Times: 

       "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government...And I won't be buried under their damn flag."

         Earlier this year, Palin, as governor, was happy to tell the AIP convention:  "Keep up the good work."

        I wonder how well that will play in Peoria; that is, if the folks hear about it at all.  

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Heard from Cheney's Cave

I guess I should feel a lot better now that Sean Hannity has given an A-plus to the  U.S economy and dissed all those poor souls who believe  our health-care system needs some help.  I should, but I can't. In the generation Before Fox (BF), Hannity would have been a perfect Ed Norton on the Jackie Gleason Honeymooners show and could play Norton in a sequel.   Sean is silly enough to make you feel uneasy about the human race , but  paid  enough to give hope to any comedian who has been out of work for more than 26 weeks.  

Well, the Barracuda bared her teeth to Charlie Gibson and declared that we might very well have to go to war with Russia.  That's not an idea that we hear about very often, but Palin is living up to her mission to enliven the McCain campaign from Cheney's Cave.     McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, has defended the plan to keep Palin under wraps and now we know why.   He says they will only let her talk to reporters who treat her with "deference".  And bring presents for all of the children?  He may get away with it.  The national media are still trying  to recover from being housebroken during the Bush years.  

A final item for today's grumpy diary: As a long time political journalist, I would have gagged at the thought of making any reference to the National Enquirer.  So when a  reader sent me the latest awful stuff about Palin's kids that appeared in the tabloid, I checked out the National Enquirer on the Internet to see whether the story actually appeared in the paper.  It did.  

Inasmuch as the same tabloid outed John Edwards, to the delight of the peekaboo crowd  and his opponents in that other party, it will be interesting to see whether this bit of keyhole reporting will make it to the mainstream  press and airwaves.  


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stick the lipstick, please

Well, there is good news to report today amid the dust storm that is clogging our nostrils from the presidential campaign.  Much to the  disappointment of our erudite friends who figured that Armageddon might be momentarily  at hand,  the $9 billion Hadron supercollider  went on line in Switzerland and didn't blow up the universe, as some doomsayers had feared.  The goal of the scientists gathered around this project was to smash particles at such unprecedented  speeds that it would offer humanity a clue to the nature of the Big Bang's production, sub-atomically speaking. More tests will be taken, but for now, at least,  we're safe.  Not being a scientist myself, that's about all I can say about it.  But if you walked down any street in America tomorrow I doubt that more then a handful of folks will have heard or cared about it.  Such is the lot of serious scientific research, which is under constant attack by some people who believe the world can't possibly be more than 6,000 years old, the Grand Canyon's Colorado River and Sen. Robert Byrd  notwithstanding.  

As anybody following the presidential campaign closely knows, we are in nasty  culture war, maybe a renewal of the colonial preacher  Jonathan Edwards'  "Great Awakening" in which alleged sinners were rounded up and severely punished by those who, it was presumed, were not sinners.   The Republicans have flung Sarah Palin as the dagger to the heart of the Democratic sinners, although she got some help the other day from a Catholic cardinal and bishop who attacked Joe Biden for not being purist enough on abortion.  And to think that we still have nearly two months to go, my friends. (Oops.  McCain already has a copyright on the friends thing.) Meantime, I want to thank the e-mailer who sent me this quote by Arthur C. Clarke, the first-tier sci-fi writer:  "The greatest tragedy in mankind's entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion." And that was before Palin entered the stage!  

Personally, I'm already getting hysterical  from the repeated references to lipstick as a campaign something-or-other by the McCain campaign ever since Palin allowed that she was like a pit bull with lipstick.  May we assume that voters will be handed tubes of lipstick to mark their ballots, or to show in some other way their fidelity to the GOP ticket?   On the other hand, maybe Rick Davis,  McCain's campaign manager, was serious when he said: "This election is not about issues."  

Closer to home, can you imagine the disappointment within the official ranks of the Summit County Republican Party when McCain bypassed Tim Pawlenty, the popular Minnesota governor who spoke at the county party's finance dinner, and anointed Palin instead?   

I'll close this one with another  question that somebody should answer:  "Is George Bush still being paid a salary as president?"     

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Contorted comedy

Against my better judgment I was led to watch an extraordinarily bizarre bit of American TV comedy newly borrowed from Japan.  The title alone would scare off  a mindless squirrel from a corncob.  They call it "It's Time to Face the Hole",  a full half-hour of  noisy inanity which is said to be quite popular in Japan.  If so, we have little to worry about another attack on Pearl Harbor.

The object of the game was to challenge human beings (at least they seemed to be humans)  to contort their bodies in grotesque positions to pass through holes in  a styrofoam wall.  Those who succeeded ended up with some money; those who didn't were dumped into a bilious green pool.  They were, however, wearing silvery wet suits and blue helmets.  Stylish anyway. 

The entire performance reminded me of those savage professional  wrestlers who made odd sounds and pounded their chests, ape-like, in front of the TV cameras. The emcee worked hard to dramatize the adolescent humor, the attractive young hostess laughed and screamed throughout that part of the program that wasn't interrupted by commercials and the audience never stopped howling.  The teams of contestants doubtless had to visit their chiropractors the next morning.  

I don't watch much network TV (this was a product of Fox), which makes me a TV snob, I suppose.    But if this is the level of entertainment that the masses happily endure from the television set,  I can only quote that great social commentator Carmine Sabatini in the movie, The Freshman.    Ending a visit to a young college student in the latter's campus room, Carmine, a mob boss who never had the benefit of higher learning,  studied the room carefully and concluded: "I didn't miss nuttin".  

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Our town, not hers

There were an excessive number of heartwarming references to the charms of small towns in the rhetoric of the Republican convention.  It made me wonder whether  there was not a subtle attempt to divide America into the murderous, evil life of urban America Democrats and, say the benign virtues of Sarah Palin's Wasilla, which, in character at least, was projected as the Biblical City on the Hill. Or perhaps St. Augustine's City of God (as opposed to the City of Man).  A reasonable assumption, I think,  inasmuch as reverence for such Alaskan hideaways trumped New York City, Chicago and even Akron, Oh.

It was, of course, baloney.  Particularly from Palin, who is hell-bent on moving to the big bad uncivilized city of Washington anyway. 

I think I am perfectly qualified to say this because I spent the first 18 years of my life growing up in a Western Pennsylvania town smaller than Wasilla, and folks, it wasn't  like what they want you to believe.  Yes, my town was the home of hard-working glassworkers and coal miners.  From my front porch, I watched the miners, their faces blackened with coal dust, trudge past each evening to salvage a few moments with their families before the next day's labors.   They had a shorter lifespan than the average, and those who did live longer always appeared to be 20 years older than you would assume. 

But there were other, less morally valued, aspects of the town -  a lot of them. It had its moments of belligerence and bawdiness.  Rowdies forever hung out in bars.  Fistfights outside of the bowling alley or the dance hall were common on Saturday nights as drunks entertained the rest of us.  The lone pool hall was the scene of nightly smoke-filled  garbage-mouth gambling. And the poker games usually turned up on Sunday afternoon with the players hunching around a makeshift slate table in my neighbor's front yard.  

Want more?  Several girls in the high school class  ahead of me  were kicked out of a summer camp for naughty sexual activities. And some students gleefully blew up condoms during the football pep rallies and batted them back and forth.

There were manly tussles in the lot next to my house. There was, for example, the ugly episode when a football landed beyond a wooden  fence and the unthinking neighbor decided to keep it. Two of my burly cousins bounded over the fence and would have at the very least maimed the poor fellow if some of us hadn't intervened to rescue him.   

Religious differences occasionally flared.  My best friend's girl friend was grounded by her father when he learned that she had attended my friend's Catholic church rather than her Catholic church.  My own family was noisily divided between between Rome and Constantinople. 

Mainly, the town made do, for better or worse. The volunteer firemen sponsored a annual  Halloween parade that was full of weird costumes that were hardly angelic. And the great trumpet player who blasted at half time of the football games wore a band uniform but was actually a  war veteran assumed to be a student.  And when a bully  came into my uncle's small restaurant and started annoying the customers, Uncle Dan, who once worked as a a guard at a mental institution,  didn't even issue a warning.  Instead he grabbed the big guy, dragged him outside  and threw him face down on the sidewalk.  .  

On this and a lot of other things, nobody asked a lot of silly questions about things that were worse.  

This is not to say that my town didn't have decent and generous people, too. (In fact, Sarah, I don't remember a single instance in which the mayor thought about banning books.)   But it is fair  to say that soapy references to small-town innocence project a myth.  And I do believe it is scurrilous  to suggest that the good life can only be attained when it is free of urban culture. Quite the opposite is true.   I happen to prefer living around museums,  concerts, libraries, first-rate medical attention and access to a campus.  Of course, I'm not running for president on the small-town nostalgia ticket.   


Friday, September 5, 2008

Conventional honor role?

Grumpy post mortem: 

McCain's new source of alternative energy:  Sarah Palin.

Most expensive outfit for a single evening: According to Vanity Fair,  Cindy McCain's  Oscar de la Renta dress, 3-carat diamond earrings and other fixings were worth nearly $400,000. (That  should end the talk of the memory loss about the number of their  houses.)

Worst color backdrop:  That awful pale green that was was so criticized  after McCain's New Orleans speech. One call to Sherwin-Williams would have helped enormously .

Most criticized speech by conservative analysts:  McCain's acceptance speech, which rambled, was flat and and filled with the boilerplate of GOP conventions long past. They also have to do something about that mechanical grin. 

Dominant convention mood:  Hawkishness and the powerful undertow of Christian  Right  subplots. 

Worst slip of the tongue: Tom Ridge's reference to "John Bush" - which he mercifully corrected.

Most peripatetic GOP analyst:  Karl Rove, the never-say-die political  advisor/crystal gazer  who was born again, and again, and again...But even Nostradamus had his bad days.  

Most manic major speaker:   Rudy Giuliani. I hope they didn't pay him for his warmup act.   

Most abused  endeavor, according to the headliners: Community organizing. 

Best line about the convention  by a hometown Democrat:  "Jesus was a community organizer.
Pilate was a mayor."

Most ignored Republicans:  George Bush and Dick Cheney.  It's almost enough to offer sympathy to Bush in exile.   But I won't.  

Most invidious comparison:  Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.  It's possible the Republicans will wish they hadn't.  

M0st overdone word that I hope never to hear again:  Maverick.  (Followed closely by "reform".)

Most ignored issues:  failed home mortgages, rising unemployment, the U.S. financial industry, tens of millions of uninsured, the overwhelming federal budget deficits that would grow worse under more tax cuts, crippling health care costs.  (If that's whining, Phil Gramm, make the most of it.) 

Most unspoken figure:  $27 million in federal earmarks to Wasilla while Palin was mayor of her little town..

Strangest sexist reference to Palin by a delegate:  A badge that said "Hottest VP."

Best post-convention news:  Everybody went home.    Or wherever. 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pogo returns

More  grumpiness:  

      Please.  What was all of the indignant fuss at the GOP convention Wednesday night over entrenched special interests, fat cat lobbyists, big spenders and do nothing pols who raid the federal treasury every morning before breakfast?  You know.  "The Beltway business-as-usual crowd" that drew an even meaner scowl from Fred Thompson.    That's what speaker after speaker wanted us to know, without once acknowledging that the party's presidential nominee(and a lot of the others in the audience)  has been around for 26 years as part of the Capitol Hill mix and has  more than a few lobbyist friends to look after his and their best interests.   Or that Alaska is doing very well with millions in earmarked funds?  What I didn't hear from any of them is Pogo's historic insight:  "We have met the enemy and he is us."

....And what was Rudy Giuliani's hyperventilating problem as he elevated himself to personally untested spiritual heights when he rose and applauded Sarah's self-congratulatory comments on her many happy years of wedlock.   As mayor he shared the role of husband to one  and boyfriend to another. He also was the guy who foisted his friend, Bernard Kerik, a New York City police commissioner  on the  White House to run Homeland Security - a ploy that didn't get very far before Kerik was convicted of nimble corruption.  In retreat, Rudy was forced to describe his pal as a "good criminal"  while tooling around on the speaker's circuit for upward of $200,00o per appearance.  

         .....And it soon became obvious that Palin hadn't vetted McCain very well, either, having promised the crowd that her  team would work diligently on alternate forms of energy.  If she had gone through some clippings, she would have known that McCain repeatedly was a no-show for the Senate votes on renewable energy. The work could have started by harnessing the windpower from the stage.  

         Finally, how quickly the rules change in presidential politics.  Four years ago John  Kerry's military service was scandalized by the Swift Boaters committed to sending Bush and Cheney back to second terms as committed  lifelong civilians.    This year,  praise of military valor is pouring from the lips of the McCain people as an overwhelmingly positive issue to seat him in the White House.  For them, on this and other blatant contradictions, a losing candidate is not an option.  But he was the very same POW that Bush & Co. trashed in 2000.  You'll  find it somewhere in the fine print of this year's campaign.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Claghorn Gambit

Grumpy thoughts from last night's "spiritual awakening", a.k.a. Republican convention: 

Why did Senator Beauregard Claghorn, of Allen's Alley radio fame, come to mind when another  Fred,  this one Thompson,   bullied and blustered his way through a southern-fried  good 'ol boy speech to the delegates?    This was the same star on the horizon once designated by the media as the can't-miss candidate du jour in  the Republican primaries.  Acting experience, a firm grasp of the party's right wing social agenda, tall and masculine.  Didn't happen.  Fortunately  for his side, he didn't quote Claghorn's memorable line:  "It's a joke, son."....Joe Lieberman's paean to McCain added to the confusion.  He called himself a Democrat.  He WAS a Democrat before he called himself  an Independent before he called himself a Democrat last night.  He said God created only one John McCain, but it appears God may also have hedged his bets with Lieberman and created at least two or three...When George Bush showed up on the satellite I was sure he would announce the invasion of Easter Island to change the talk from the Bush years.  Thanks, prez.  Another war we don't need.    .  

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gondolas at the ready?

Unlike the news from Lake Wobegon, it was not a quiet week in America.  Hurricane Gustav  sent politicians scurrying for the correct response to the potential tragedy, although there was little that the Republican team could do to silence  the repeated  reminders of Katrina, which happened on their  guy's watch.  And despite the distraction, there was the matter of  the Alaskan  Barracuda who guides herself through troubled waters with a moral compass and an escort of right-wing  pundits and preachers declaring her to be the newest star in the electoral firmament.  I won't even go into the undertow  that has already moved into her path to the Potomac.     

I was particularly interested in her defense team's effort to push back the doubters.   Cindy McCain, for example, thought that Palin  could easily  step into John's shoes on foreign policy inasmuch as Alaska was practically the next-door neighbor of Russia.  If need be with our overstretched military, I suppose,  it would be a simple matter to invite an armada of gondolas from the Italian navy  to protect the Bering Strait.   And as long as we're on the subject of protecting us from our enemies,  I thought the comment by a Republican delegate from Wooster was worth a couple of stars.   She liked McCain, she said, because he would know what to do in the the event we are attacked.  Lady, we've already tried that!

Now there are reports in the Washington Post, New York Times  and elsewhere that the vetting of Palin's personal history was as sloppy as a hastily arranged fire drill. The Times said he chose Palin "moments" after his only face-to-face meeting despite the fact that he really wanted Joe Lieberman. (It is reminiscent of the moment Bush looked into Putin's heart and instantly declared him to be a decent pal.)  Poor Joe.  It was a brutal snub after he and Lindsey Graham had fluttered around McCain like seraphim during the primaries. 

Will there be more to come? Probably.   Think how much easier it would have been to close the gender gap if he had been independent enough to choose, say, Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe of Maine.  He didn't.   Instead, the proud "maverick"  paid servile homage to the ever-demanding Big  Brother of Republican politics.